Archive for the 'systems' Category

How important is it?

January 27, 2015

I find that sorting criterion looms large to me whenever someone close to me is dying.  Stuff that usually seems so urgent seems less so, other people’s or system’s demands on me seem just that — the demands of other people or systems.  Even failings and flaws and glitches in the systems and people involved don’t excite in me the same reaction as they usually do, although I do try to pursue what needs to be pursued.

I have wondered whether as these people close to me “transition,” I pick up a little of the perspective they may be experiencing.

When the death has receded somewhat and there has been a new accumulation of demands and failings, flaws, and glitches, I think I revert back to my usual attitude, but I do retain the memory of how it felt when those things truly felt much less important.  Maybe there is a net improvement in my perspective, just from that.


Medical procrastination

December 10, 2014

My mother’s lab tests came back and a specialist appeared in her hospital room — and told her, when she asked whether he would now be in charge of her care, no, that will have to wait for the out-patient clinicians to be brought on board.


Now the campaign begins to have enough of a treatment plan in the discharge instructions, when that time comes, to tide her over until she is actually seen by the out-patient clinicians.  We would like to avoid another re-admission to the hospital.

It would be farce if it weren’t about what it’s about.

I bought my mother an electric menorah this evening.  I don’t know what connection that has with all this (she had mentioned she wanted one for her apartment, instead of her usual candled one), except maybe it expresses hope in the midst of dystopia.

Medical systems and biology

December 8, 2014

So, apparently, the medical systems designers have decided that a patient will not have symptoms that need management by a specialist in that disease until the lab test results come back (something like a week later), despite a fairly clear tentative diagnosis.  And despite the patient developing symptoms that need management.  But no specialist can be brought in yet because the results aren’t back yet.

So my mother landed back in the hospital through the ER via an ambulance this morning, in part because it wasn’t clear whether the worsening symptoms indicated that a medical procedure she had had Friday had gone awry.  But no, it wasn’t that, it is apparently just symptoms of the underlying disease they won’t deal with until the lab results are in.

They are promising me that this time they will not discharge my mother without an adequate treatment plan to manage her symptoms.

had asked multiple times on multiple occasions over the course of the past week for such a specialist, and the in-patient medical staff even asked me today why my mother has no such specialist.  And her primary care physician had claimed she would make this process smooth, as she had experienced a rocky process with her own mother’s illness.  But today, again, she said no specialist yet.

Maybe one could say that the root of the problem is that systems designers aren’t realistic.  And that the systems are too rigid.

This re-admission to the hospital can’t be saving costs.

It has certainly cost my mother physically and emotionally.


April 24, 2014

I very much appreciated Richard Rohr’s reminder this morning that “Without all the inner voices of resistance and control, it is amazing how much you can get done and not get tired.”  That’s in today’s Daily Meditation.

Gita and I have talked about this, too — couldn’t do it without “letting go” and “turning it over.”

Now, I am perfectly prepared to believe that I could do this better.  I put up resistance (like a kid pushing the spinach to the side of their plate), I fret, I get ahead of myself, I try to get other people to act in a way to prevent a future problem (like trying to get them to correct, before it is filed, a tax return that has mistakes in it).

I think I see two additional issues, in addition to “letting go” and “turning it over,” but, as I said, I am prepared to discover the issue lies with me.

One is volume.

I just end up with too many things on my plate as a result of being open to and able to do caretaking.  The inflow can feel as if it exceeds my processor’s capacity.

The second is society’s (unreasonable) demands.

The two kind of intertwine.

I once heard someone say that she thought of the nursing home in which her mother lived as being like “one big alcoholic.”  She meant that the institution could be as difficult to deal with as a human alcoholic, and with similar patterns of behavior.  I’ve felt similarly about other institutions, including schools, hospitals, social services, the justice system.  Whether it’s damaging behavior by the institution to a loved one or demands from the institution on me (as a caretaker), it can feel as if what I am called upon to do exceeds the amount of energy I can give it without too much damage to myself.

It’s no secret that patients in hospitals and nursing homes who have caretakers of their own weighing in as case managers do better, get better care, etc.

So where to draw the line between detachment and involvement?

It’s not just the wisdom of knowing the difference between what we can change and what we can’t, it’s also putting a boundary on how much of ourselves we can deploy without too much depletion.  Inflow from prayer and meditation certainly helps, but I think outflow can exceed inflow if care is not taken.  On the other hand, there is an instinct or desire to try to prevent or ameliorate suffering of others.  Part of that is wrapped up in trying to avoid pain — something we are encouraged to do by our norms and our survival instinct.  I think there is also a part of helping others in some situations that is from pressure from social norms more directly, regardless of where we think we should be drawing lines and regardless of inner guidance about where to observe boundaries, of what’s ours to do and what’s not.

My sense is that we have with our current social organization shifted around responsibility like a hot potato or like a shell in a game in which something is being hidden beneath one of a number of inverted cups.  Some techniques we seem to me to use to do this include, for example, narrowly defining our piece of the project and expecting others to do more;  littering, on the justification that one little piece won’t hurt;  setting systems up in such a way that requires a person without authority or control to have responsibility.

I don’t know if human free will can “clog up the plumbing” of the system of human interaction and society, or whether it’s the case that any system we devise can work, so long as those who have to use it interface adequately with divine help.  But I admit that sometimes I think we have developed a system that doesn’t work, especially for the long run.

For me, the questions are relevant to the issue of how much better a situation can be expected to go — because I am often hearing from others that things could be better if I just _______.  I have run through a fair number of _______, and I am here to say they do not necessarily work as advertized.  Maybe this is why 12-step programs refrain from advice and why the most general helpful source I found after Willy died was actually Al-Anon, the program for family and friends of alcoholics, although Willy was not a qualifier of mine.

At any rate, I conclude for now that working on my part of the equation, so long as I do it gently, can’t hurt, but that I should also be wary of assuming that optimizing my own part will result in things going better in other ways.

At the RMV

August 17, 2013

This is my little contribution to the reality of getting all those government-issued cards — IDs, driver’s licenses, learner’s permits, etc.

Jordan and I went down yesterday, at his request, to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and it was crowded.  His wait was said to be one hour and 50 minutes.  We settled in, prepared to complete the transaction.

Well, the window he needed to use was proceeding s-l-o-w-l-y.  There were about 21 people ahead of him in his category when we came in, and after 45 minutes, I realized they were taking over 10 minutes to process each person’s transaction.  I did the math, and the wait for us would be about 3 hours at that pace at that point.

But a woman dressed in a pretty flowered dress and classic cardigan sweater, wearing an ID, had come in.  She addressed the crowd from the front of the room.  She apologized for the wait, urged people who could do their business online to leave and do that instead, and encouraged those of us whose business wasn’t urgent, to consider taking a “no wait” card and coming back another day.  She was the Registrar of Motor Vehicles in MA, Rachel Kaprielian.

At first Jordan didn’t want to take a rain check, but when I pointed out the slow pace at his window, he decided to go up to where he could get the “no wait” card.  And while he was on line there, the window he would have needed to use seemed to shut down entirely — its screen went dark and no one new was called up to it.

Apparently the problem yesterday at the Watertown RMV was staffing.  Yes, it was the busiest RMV office that day, but the difference from usual was that they were short-staffed, we were told.

What made me urge Jordan to take the rain check was my realization that we could wait three hours and be told he wouldn’t be processed because time had run out — I don’t think they were making sure they could accommodate everybody they were allowing into the various queues.  When I came once with Jonas years ago, they weren’t going to give him his card, until I intervened — he had all the necessary documents, they just kept giving him a run-around.  When I went up and said I was his mother and what was the problem, suddenly there was none.  I had a similar pattern with him at a hospital ER — he wasn’t examined until I insisted, everybody else in the waiting room who had been there when I had left to pick up Jordan from school had been seen, and he had had a neck injury.  Small white woman walks up and cross-examines them with some intensity and all of a sudden the African-American young man gets the service he was entitled to in the first place.

So this is part of why I personally don’t see voter ID cards as a neutral thing.  Getting a card from the government, I believe, can be difficult for some people, through no fault of their own.  These systems don’t always work as advertized, and it can take multiple tries and much effort to accomplish what it is said should be easy to do.

Flight control systems

June 29, 2013

My father was an electrical engineer by profession, worked for Bendix Corporation his whole career (it got bought by Allied and then Honeywell, so the name changed, but his place of work didn’t).  He worked in aeronautics.  He designed flight control systems for commercial and military aircraft.

That’s about the extent of what I know about what he spent his time doing.  He didn’t discuss it at home, I think largely because some of it he couldn’t, because it involved classified information.  I doubt the flight control systems for commercial aircraft actually did, but I think he dealt with the classified information issue by just having a blanket policy of not discussing his work.  And there was really no reason for him to.

But the concept of flight control systems is something helpful to me.  It helps me understand something I experience in my spiritual life.  (It was also a neat thing to learn about in the aeronautical context, and I was proud and fascinated that my father knew how to do what he did.)

My father once explained to me that what he designed allowed a pilot to steer a jumbo jet with he same ease with which the pilot steered a small plane.  My difficulty is not the same sort — mine is more like needing cross a deep gorge on a bridge without rails.  It can be done, but I can get in my own way if it’s too clear to me what I’m doing.  So I have help that just gives me what I need to know — what I need to know to do what I need to do to walk across that bridge — for all I know I’m walking across a lovely parquet floor in an expansive ballroom while I do it.

My talent is not bridge-walking, it’s trusting, it’s willingness to be guided, and it involves surrender.

When I’ve gotten to the other side, I come to know that I have crossed a gorge, when I am encouraged to learn to modulate my trust with the free will I had largely suspended.  That process leads to an understanding of what I’ve done, as if a curtain is being raised or a veil removed.  It’s kind of like the pilot deplaning and for the first time seeing how big the aircraft he was flying actually was.

I think my father’s job was something important in its own right, but I also like that what he did helps me to interpret what I do.





Providing a handle when asking for help

November 26, 2012

The point of departure is that stereotype of guys who won’t stop and ask for directions when they’re driving and lost.  It’s probably an outdated stereotype, what with GPS and Google Maps.  But my point is the dynamic between the person asking for help and the person who could provide it.  That process often goes awry.

I think each party to the helping dynamic needs an emotional posture that works for them and also is conducive to the other partner responding in a constructive way that furthers the transaction and the relationship.

Damsel in distress and knight in shining armor is one, not necessarily to be emulated, example of such a dynamic.  Nowadays in our culture, there seems to be a posture taken by families selected for extreme home makeovers, or fund-raising drives, or the like, that facilitates people’s wanting to help them.  Between student and teacher, patient and doctor, client and social worker, there are dynamics that work and those that freeze, fizzle, or even explode.  If the helper has no ego needs involved, there is, I think, more allowance for unhelpful postures on the part of the person being helped — a “saint” will be open to trying to help regardless of how the person needing help presents themselves.  I think all this also goes on in relationships among family and friends, but I think it’s more subtle and so more difficult to see.  I can even imagine social programs, whether public through government or private through charity, being engaged in this dynamic.

What people require people who need help to do can be a serious impediment to getting a helping transaction or relationship started.  Needing to strike a pathetic or pitiful pose, or to have the right combination of strength and weakness to be judged worthy of help will screen out some people who need help and don’t do those things.  But it might turn out to be the case that people who need help might, as a practical matter, and “unfair” as it may seem, need to give potential helpers, who may be limited in their own ways, a point of access to them.  The tussle may actually be over vulnerability (how much vulnerability must the person needing help show or admit to) or even “bending at the knee,” but I am thinking that those issues may be transformed into something else, maybe even through humor, into issues more acceptable to the person needing the help.  I do think, though, that a person needing help makes it more likely they will receive it if they give the person who could help them a leg up, a hand-hold, a handle to grab — some point of access.

The person who needs the help may have the opposite need — the need to have their situation acknowledged as being intrinsically and objectively worthy of help and of having their view and emotions validated.  And of not budging an inch off of where they are emotionally to get that help.

Finding common ground between the two sets of needs doesn’t always happen.  But maybe a little more awareness of the dance going on would make it more likely that some common ground is found.

Black turtlenecks

September 30, 2012

I found myself writing about black turtlenecks in a comment to Maureen Dowd’s column on little black dresses.  (I got there because of her apparent surprise that black in fabric is not a uniform color.  I’ve had black turtlenecks from a particular brand — Talbots –that have a brown cast to them.  And that got me writing about the impact of Steve Jobs’s fashion statement on my own choices — it has for me taken away some of the carefree quality I associated with grabbing a black turtleneck and a pair of jeans sometimes because it’s easy.)

Someone (LiveLoveHealth of San Francisco) correctly, I think, pointed out that it was black mock turtlenecks that Steve Jobs wore as part of his uniform, not a high or fold-over collar.

This helps.  It provides a distinction (since I prefer a high or fold-over collar).  It also gave me another point of contrast, doctrinaire and eclectic.

My first impulse is to develop that into a compare and contrast of those two styles, including how I use them and how Steve Jobs did.  I don’t actually know how Steve Jobs used those approaches.  Which helpfully keeps me from taking that route and instead allows me to muse on why I feel vaguely irritated when I do read about Jobs.

I think it’s like, for me, reading Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, or standing next to someone singing a different harmony — I’m trying hard to hang onto my own sense of things, and people who have their own close but not the same sense of things I tend to push away so I can hear my own sense without importing some of theirs into mine.

With some other “senses of things” I easily visit and discuss them, maybe learn from and use bits or pieces of them.  With (these) others I react as if they are threatening to brainwash me into an unhelpful airtight belief system that will prevent me from doing what I need to be doing.  I am not sure what I’m reacting to, whether it really is dangerous for me to try seeing things this other way.  I recognize that I avoid thought systems that insist on black and white thinking and the existence of “Evil,” for example.  Maybe these “senses of things” strike me at some level as participating in that.

I can see many of us making our individual art projects of belief systems and lives and senses of things using the same set of supplies but putting them together differently — I think it’s part of the kaleidoscope of humanity.  What’s at the base of why, when I sense another’s project is close to mine in some way but different in some significant way I turn away, I’m not sure.  Do I worry I will feed or spread something unhelpful or damaging?  Do I not want to revise my own belief system in certain ways?

I do know that space and looseness can be conducive to understanding and helpful behavior.  Maybe I find myself tensing up in the presence of systems I feel a need to distinguish from my own understandings and it’s that tenseness and not the system itself I’m trying to avoid.  That seems to be a better match with what I’m feeling.  So it’s not their senses of things per se that I find problematic but my reaction to them.  Looking to see whether I can develop a different reaction makes more sense to me than allowing myself to become very negative about what someone else is doing.  In the meantime I can politely “take space,” as people are advised to do when an interaction is threatening to escalate unhelpfully.

Active requests, or, Don’t Feed the Animals

August 21, 2012

I’ve wondered, as I think many people wonder, about why we seem to need to actively request help from the universe to receive it.

On the one hand, let me get out of the way first that I think general willingness to serve can lead to some kind of help in a particular situation.

But there does seem to be in our system a need to ask for help from the universe.  This is tangentially related to the issue I touched on recently in a previous post about what happens when needs are not sufficiently communicated to another human being.  In the case of asking for help from God or the universe, we wonder why they can’t see our need and meet it without articulation, the way a parent might meet a baby’s needs without the child’s communicating those to them explicitly.

For one thing, there’s the issue of our receptivity to the help — if we’re not open enough to hear and be guided, all the help can be available to us (and is, I think) and yet we can’t (as in, we are unable to) make use of it.

The issue of specific requests I think could be related to something else.  If God and the universe are too easily accessible to us and our needs don’t serve, that helping energy will go to uses that don’t serve.  If the system requires a request, it is also requiring a certain mindset on the part of the requester, one that may screen for authentic communication from the heart, for example.  It is furthermore inserting a pause, however brief, into the dynamic and an opportunity for a decision of some sort.  It strikes me that this could ensure that energy does not just gush out to wherever a flawed human being might direct it.

I came to this thinking as I was contemplating my interactions with others that I find draining.  I’m very porous, but what I think actually is more at the root of my trouble is that I actively share my energy with others too easily.  I think I need to look at requests instead, to assume my energy will circulate for me unimpeded unless I divert it per a request or at least with my permission.  I think I have not been sufficiently aware of what seemingly innocuous interactions lead to my giving away my energy in ways that don’t result in anything truly helpful.  (I’m not sure I’m right about this, since so many people like myself end up using other techniques to keep other people at bay, including limiting their availability physically for interactions.)

Energy is energy, so having thought about my own system, it struck me that while God’s energy is limitless, pouring it into things that don’t serve would not necessarily be the system we have, and that requiring a request might be a way of maintaining equilibrium overall in the system.  Then, only requests (or subterfuges or donations, prudent or imprudent) to move energy around would actually change its distribution.

I don’t know if this is accurate, and just as knowing that there will be pain so long as there is pleasure in a world isn’t particularly satisfying or comforting to someone is distress, it doesn’t address the apparent difficulties in the system that seem to arise when a person doesn’t know to or is unable to make a request.

To me, the story of an angel who rebels against God is really the story of someone questioning the system we have in the universe.  I think when the system is viewed from some perspectives it really does look stupid or cruel.  I’ve encountered folks who needed to hear that before they would accede to rejoining it.  A more neutral way of putting it is that we may experience the systemic as difficult.  If our cosmology includes something like a demiurge between ourselves and God, who is responsible for our system the way a game designer is responsible for a particular game, I suppose our complaint is with the demiurge and not with the universe.

For me, a component of faith is that from some other points of view, the system has its merits and makes sense, if I can put it that way, that from other perspectives our concerns and complaints are about things that are irrelevant from that kind of perspective.

I think human beings have a peculiar position in our ability to participate in the system with our heads to some extent in the clouds while our feet are in the mud.  At our most helpful we are conduits, I think, at our least, we implode into energetic black holes.  Somewhere in between those two extremes lie the people whom I experience as large hungry babies who just want to suckle and grow large from energy from elsewhere, without themselves becoming donors of it in turn.  I think I am learning not to feed them in ways that don’t serve.

I am not surprised that in the world we have people who see this upside down and backwards in terms of activity in the physical world — such as political conservatives who see society in terms of productive people and lazy people on the dole.  I suspect they are voicing for themselves their own spiritual situation but have lost the ability to hear.  But they do us a service in making apparent the problem to other people who can hear what they are saying.  Eventually that perspective will spread.  I believe that the spiritual situation is the dog and the physical manifestation is the tail, and that when the perspective of enough people changes sufficiently with respect to our spiritual situation, the situation in our material world will improve.


June 21, 2012

I wonder if there are circumstances in which a person returns from a long absence to find they can’t fit into what they left and are returning to, that they are too changed by it.  Soldiers come to mind, the incarcerated, even astronauts or members of the Peace Corps.

What interests me here is how their difficulties become compounded if they are counseled that they can fit back in but in fact they actually can’t as things stand — if they are now outside the system they left, they probably need to take that as their starting point, not try to make things work according to the old system as if nothing had happened.  It’s not that they wouldn’t be bearing in mind the goals and values of the old system, it would be a recognition by them that they could no longer reach those goals through the same mechanisms as others who never left can use, that the system will never respond to them in the same way again, so they have to find other, acceptable, ways to reach the goals, interact with others, and get their needs met.  But it also means that they would not get caught up in paying into a system that would no longer respond to them as it used to and therefore they wouldn’t become as frustrated by the fact it will not operate as before.

I am thinking this is true for people who go on spiritual journeys, too.